Sunday’s Sermon: Responding to God’s Word

  • When I was a really little kid – probably about 2 or 3 years old – I was playing with one of those little wheeled riding toys.
    • Small, silver Goodyear blimp
    • Mom was pushing me down driveway
    • Hit large rock or bump –> started to tip over
    • Mom’s automatic response: do everything she could to keep me from getting hurt
      • Reached out
      • Took a digger herself
      • Scraped up her own knee pretty badly –> left a scar
    • Her gut reaction was to protect her child – a response that came from a place of love and motivated her to act before she really even thought about what she was doing.
    • Now, over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how we are called to gather as a community to worship God in praise and in prayer, and we’ve discussed how it important it is to encounter God’s Word in our worship services. The third phase of the worship service – what we’re talking about this week – is what happens after we’ve heard God’s Word. This week, we’re talking about being inspired to respond.
      • Notice: “inspire” to respond, not “obligated,” not “required,” not “guilted into” … inspired to respond. Our response to God’s Word should be a gut reaction – something that we feel we want to do and need to do because God has touched our hearts, not something that we feel like we have to do because it’s expected of us or because everyone around us is doing it, too.
  • 2 facets of responding – individually and as a community
    • OT passage speaks mostly to responding individually
      • First, touches on how we find protection in responding
        • Protection for us by way of the word – text: If you will only heed [God’s] every commandment that I am commanding you today – loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your hearts and with all your soul – then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill.[1] –> We are promised provision. We are promised care and God’s sustaining presence if only we would respond to hearing God’s word by following that word … loving the Lord our God, and serving God with all our hearts and with all our souls in every part of our lives.
        • Also important to note that our response actually acts as protection for our hearts – text: Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them[2]
          • Heb in passage is revealing – “seduced into turning away” = literally being “fooled into opening your heart” –> We’ve spoken about how we need to be open to God’s Word – open to letting it work in our lives and in our hearts. But we also have to take care, to be on guard, to watch and make sure we don’t open our hearts to worshiping other things as well.
            • See very similar warning in NT passage as well: Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
              • Gr “take care” translates same as Heb “take care” (“take care, or you will be seduced into turning away”) = watch, guard, beware of, discover –> God isn’t trying to scare us into responding here, but God does want us to be informed. There are things out there that can distract us. There are things out there that, if we take them into our hearts, can quickly attain a God-like prominence, occupying our thoughts, our desires, and our dreams. But when we hear God’s word in worship and respond by take that into our hearts instead – when we give God’s word that place of prominence in our lives – then there will be less opportunity for distractions to take hold.
      • Deut. also makes it clear that Word marks us in response to being heard – text: You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.[3] –> speaks to intimate nature of our individual response to God’s word
        • Something we must choose on our own – “you shall put these words of mine on your heart …”, not “I’ll do it for you”
        • Involves heart, soul and body
        • Not easily undone – Heb “bind” = connotations of one person’s life being bound up with another’s
          • Like a contract – can’t easily or hastily get out of it
      • Finally, Deut. gives us responsibility in our individual response = pass it on – text: Teach [these words of mine] to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates[4] –> responsibility to testify to …
        • Importance of faith
        • Strength of faith
        • Tradition of faith
        • Also responsibility to make our faith known – bind [these words of mine] on your hand … fix them on your forehead. … Write them on your house and on your gates.[5] –> speaks to a visible faith, a faith that we share with the people in our lives. If we are so moved and so marked by God’s word as we say we are – as the writer of Deuteronomy seems to think we are – then our words and actions should reflect that.
          • Like scar on Mom’s knee – doesn’t easily fade
    • This idea leads to responding as a community
      • First, Heb passage references Israelites’ journey out of slavery in Egypt and 40 yrs. wandering in the desert –> All that time, God was just waiting for a genuine, faithful response from the people of Israel. And many times, they came close. But every time they did, their hearts would stray.
        • Following false gods/idols
        • Losing trust in God
        • Letting greed and jealousy override their faith
        • See this in passage – text (God): your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation.[6]
          • Gr. “angry” = offended, provoked –> So we see that God isn’t angry with the Israelites just because God is fickle, just because God felt like being angry. Words like “offended” and “provoked” imply cause behind the anger, something that God was driven to, not something that God arbitrarily chose. God’s response is contingent on the response of the people.
          • And so instead of getting caught in this age-old cycle of disobedience and inadequate response, the passage from Hebrews urges us to encourage one another in our faith.
            • Text: But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.[7] –> introduces element of accountability to our faith
              • Now, I think the concept of accountability in faith circles has acquired an uncomfortable connotation. For a lot of Christian, it’s come to be associated mostly with the act of bearing our sins to someone else so that they can keep an eye on us, sort of a roundabout form of confession. But that’s not all that accountability is. At its core, accountability in faith is helping one another respond to God.
              • In passage from Hebs, Gr. “exhort” = summon, invite, comfort, encourage –> Think about it. These are all ways that we hold one another up in faith. We get to know each other as members of the same family of faith, and so when one of us is struggling, we extend a hand to help. We extend a prayer for strength and God’s peace. We bring a casserole or we watch the kids or we do whatever is necessary to remind each other of God’s goodness in the midst of difficult times. In this way, we let the Word of God that we have heard in Scripture and sermons and prayer and song be passed on to those in need. We respond to the needs of our community, and we respond to God’s desire for us to be the priesthood of all believers.
      • Respond by giving of our time, our talents, and our resources
        • Very recent perfect e.g.s – church coming together for …
          • [O] – luncheons
          • [Z] – Country store
          • 2 major worship elements included in this = offering & sacraments
            • Offering
              • Prayer of Dedication
              • Hymn of praise
                • Used to be doxology, this month’s e.g. – Let Every Christian Pray
                • Sacraments
                  • Lord’s Supper
                  • Baptism
                • Also includes ordination/installation – ways that we respond to the call of God placed on our lives
                  • Often a call heard through Scripture – e.g. solidifying my call through words of Ps 139
                • Scholar points out elements (offering & sacraments) are actually historically tied together: The Offering did not originate as a way of raising revenue or exerting monetary pressure on people to give when they supposedly were in a heightened state of spiritual sensitivity. In early centuries, Christians brought … gifts of bread and wine from their own tables. A place to receive such gifts was designated near the entrance to the room where the congregation assembled for worship. During the service, deacons would set apart the amount of bread and wine needed for the Lord’s Supper, and after the service of the Word, bring them forward to the Holy Table. The gifts of bread and wine represented the people’s offering of their own lives in the service of Jesus Christ.[8]
  • Often, this “responding to God’s Word” is where we find ourselves in danger of simply going through the motions – doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. It’s also the part of the worship service that we tend to gloss over the most, especially when it comes to the offering. We don’t like talking about money, and we don’t like the idea of tying our faith to money, so we quickly pass the offering plate along and move on to the next hymn. But responding to God’s Word – in our worship service and in our daily lives – is about so much more than just what we tangibly pull out of our wallets. It’s about putting feet to our faith. It’s about letting the Word that we’ve heard inspire us to act. God’s Word is full of love and peace, forgiveness and grace – all things that I think this world could use more of … and so we respond! Amen.

[1] Deut 11:13-15.

[2] Deut 11:16

[3] Deut 11:18.

[4] Deut 11:19-20.

[5] Deut 11:18, 20.

[6] Heb 3:9b-10a.

[7] Heb 3:13-14.

[8] Peter C. Bower, ed. The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2003), 33-34.

November 2014 newsletter article

First Thanksgiving

The storybook version of the first Thanksgiving is beautiful. It includes smiling pilgrims who politely ask the Native Americans for help surviving in a foreign land. In this version of the story, the Native Americans are all too happy to help, patiently demonstrating their own techniques for hunting local game as well as planting and harvesting crops. The still-smiling settlers graciously accept the Native Americans’ instruction and say a nice, big, warm ‘thank you’ by inviting all of the tribe members to a giant dinner that miraculously looks a lot like the food that will grace our tables this November 28.

But this, my friends, is quite a stretching of the truth.

The first settlers almost certainly weren’t smiling that much. Roughly 100 settlers left England on the Mayflower and landed on the shores of Massachusetts in late December 1620. Between the bitter cold, disease, and starvation, less than half of those original settlers survived that first winter. Today, historians are still unsure as to how or why those English settlers ended up forming a relationship with the Wampanoag tribe, but we do know that it was a relationship that ended up saving the lives of those remaining settlers. We know that it started off turbulently with seemingly-unprovoked attacks that originated on both sides. Eventually, a tenuous peace treaty was reached between the settlers and the Wampanoag, and they agreed to aid one another when the need arose.

That first Thanksgiving meal almost certainly looked vastly different than the meal we all sit down to today. But the most important point – the point that we do still celebrate today – is that they indeed did gather. The remaining settlers sat down for a 3-day harvest celebration with roughly 90 members of the Wampanoag tribe. Thinking of this image, I can’t help but be reminded of one of Jesus’ more interesting parables:

Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. … So the slave returned and reported to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lands of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ~ Luke 14:16-18a, 21-24.

I imagine this table to look a lot like the table of those first settlers and the Wampanoag. The feast table that Jesus describes in the parable is full of people drawn from all over. They’ve been called to fill the seats. They’ve gathered because suddenly there is food where they may have had none. They’ve gathered because they’ve been given the chance to be in the presence of others instead of being alone. Those seated at the table have come from different walks of life. They probably speak different languages, wear different clothes, and customarily eat different foods. And yet they have found themselves celebrating together at this beautiful feast.

Think about what it’s like around your family Thanksgiving table. There are multiple conversations buzzing at various points along the table. There is laughter. There are declarations of satisfaction. “This food is so good!” “I’m so full!” “I couldn’t eat one more bite … except for that piece of pecan pie.” Maybe there are children running around, giggling and playing. Maybe there’s a football game on in the background. There’s a warmth in the room – a warmth that touches both your body and your heart. You are in the presence of those whom you love, reliving old memories and making new ones, thankful for old blessings and new ones, nurturing old relationships and maybe even making some new ones.

Friends, as we find ourselves caught up in all the preparations for our own Thanksgiving feasts this year, I encourage you to remember that another table has been set for us – a table infinitely grander and more satisfying than the greatest Thanksgiving table you’ve ever seen. This table will look a lot like our family thanksgiving tables, but it will also look like the table of the Plymouth settlers and Wampanoag. We can relive old memories and make new ones. We can be thankful for old blessings and new ones. We can nurture old relationships and make new ones. But most importantly, we will be honoring and participating in the greatest relationship of all – our relationship with Almighty God.



Information pertaining to Plymouth Colony and first Thanksgiving from

Remembering …


It was 24 years ago today that a little boy named Jacob disappeared near St. Joseph, MN. Jacob, his brother, and a friend of theirs were riding their bikes along a country road when a man with a mask and a gun came out and forced them into the ditch. The man released Jacob’s brother and his friend, telling them to run to a nearby woods and not look back. If they dared to look back, he’d kill them. And run they did … but they also looked back, and when they did, they saw the man leading Jacob away.

That was the last time anyone saw Jacob Wetterling. Any school child growing up in Minnesota – and perhaps the rest of the country – heard Jacob’s story in school assemblies year after year. We were warned of the danger of strangers. We were taught to yell and scream … though I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning what good that would do on a deserted country road.

Being only 5 or 6 years old at the time, I don’t remember news coverage from Jacob’s story. But I remember my parents’ reactions. I remember crushing bear hugs – hugs that felt stronger and lasted longer than “normal hugs.” I remember a long period of time when Mom held my hand a little tighter when we were out and about. I remember not being able to play outside by myself. And I remember the looks – looks extra-full of love, looks that had a hint of sadness behind them that I didn’t understand, looks that would flit to anyone else around us and shift from love to suspicion (though, of course, I was too young to name it at the time).

When he was taken, Jacob was 11 years old. Today, he would be 35. He might have a great career. He might have a family of his own – a wife and children that love him. He might live in the cities … or a small town … or somewhere in between. He might coach little league or some peewee football team. The list of “he mights” is long and wholly unknowable.

This disappearance always made me sad, but this year, with our boys growing by leaps and bounds every day, it strikes a new chord. There is a new ache when I think about Jacob – a deeper ache that also makes me sick to my stomach. Before (once I got a little older, anyway), my head understood the crushing bear hugs and the extra hand-holding and the sadness behind the looks of love and the suspicious glances. Now, my heart understands them as well.

First and foremost in my prayers this morning are Jerry and Patty Wetterling and their family. I pray for strength for them. I pray that God will carry them through this day. I pray for Trevor Wetterling and their friend, Aaron Larson. My heart cracks a little bit more when I think of the terrible burden these two young boys – now grown men – have been forced to carry for far too long. I pray for their spirits.

But I also pray for answers. 24 years … 24 years. That’s a long time to wonder. It’s a long time to be plagued by questions and uncertainty and hurt for your little boy.

Today, I remember Jacob.

Sunday’s Sermon: Hearing God’s Word

  • So here we are in the second week of our sermon series on worship.
    • Whys
    • Hows
    • Ways we find God in what we’re doing here
    • Last week: gathering – come together as a community of believers to pray, to praise, and experience God
      • Parts of worship that are included in this phase
        • Call to Worship
        • Opening hymn
        • Prayer of Confession/Words of Assurance
        • Passing of the Peace
    • Today, we tackle the next phase of worship: hearing God’s Word. And as I was thinking about this topic this week, I heard a really interesting piece on Minnesota Public Radio.
      • Fall membership drive = replaying a “favorite piece” that had aired sometime earlier in the year
      • Featured specialist in taste and smell
      • Talking about recent study done with a group of people
        • Close their eyes, plug their nose, sample (taste) something, and describe it
          • Words like “sweet” and “tangy” but couldn’t specifically name the flavor – couldn’t put their fingers on it
          • Only when the people in the study were allowed to unplug their noses and fully take in the food sight, smell, texture, and taste together – were they able to recognize and name it as strawberry rhubarb jam.
            • Similar to way we encounter God’s Word in our worship service –> hear and interact with God’s Word in different ways throughout our service, but if we don’t integrate them all as one whole experience, we’re bound to miss something
  • Ps for today speaks to important role the physical Word of God – Scripture – plays in our lives
    • Text pledges dedication to God’s word: I set your ordinances before me … I cling to your decrees, O Lord.[1] –> That’s a pretty powerful form of commitment. Things that cling to one another aren’t easily separated. But it’s important to notice that this commitment on the part of the psalmist is far from blind commitment.
      • Certainly wholehearted commitment but also informed commitment – text: teach me your statutes. Make me understand the way of your precepts. … I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding.[2] –> see psalmist being fully open to the word
        • Asking God to continuously teaching him/her – can’t be taught when your mind is closed
        • Professing being open to being changed/transformed by the word – can’t make a change when your heart isn’t in it
          • See profound nature of this change in Heb: “you enlarge my understanding” – “understanding” = actually Heb. word for inner self or heart –> So the psalmist is acknowledging that the presence of God’s Word in his/her life broadens not only the mind but the heart and soul as well. This is why it’s so important to approach God’s word with an open heart and an open mind.
  • And this is what Jesus is encouraging in the parable of the sower that we heard in the Mark passage.
    • Some seed never even gets a chance
    • Some seed doesn’t find enough substance to take root
    • Some seed is choked out by everything around it
    • Some seed grows and flourishes
    • If we’re exposing ourselves to the Word on a regular basis but we’re not open to letting it work in our hearts and in our lives, we’re not giving that Word the chance to grow and flourish.
      • Scholar: The parable of the sower invites us to reflect on the complexities of faith. … Genuine growth in faith can be measured only by the developments in a person’s life.[3] –> Seeds are made to grow. It’s that simple. And so is our faith. It’s not meant to be stagnant, always doing what it’s always done and being what it’s always been. That’s why the part of our worship service that includes hearing the word is so important. There are many ways that God continues to speak to us today, and one of the places that we experience that is through hearing that Word read and proclaimed and offered up in prayer.
      • Sometimes it’s hard to approach a text with openness
        • Difficult message to hear
        • Flip side: easy message to hear – passage we’ve heard a hundred times
          • E.g. – story of the good Samaritan
        • Idea = similar to another study in MPR piece
          • White wine tinted to look like red wine –> people use “red wine words” to describe flavor (“oaky,” “full-bodied,” “chocolate undertones”) even though flavor was never changed
            • The people who were a part of this study saw wines in varying shades of red, so they expected to taste red wine … and they did! Their expectations affected their reality, effectively transforming a crisp, white wine into a heavy, red wine. And if we gather as the body of Christ expecting God’s Word to speak only one, specific message to us, we will almost certainly hear that message …  but we may also miss something else – something equally important or maybe even more important that God is trying to teach us.
  • And that growth that we can experience is a gift from God.
    • This is why hearing God’s word is the central part of a worship service – everything else stems from this point
      • Scholar: By the reading and preaching of the Word, Jesus Christ does indeed become present to the congregation … This presence is not ours to command, but is a gift of God by means of the Holy Spirit.[4]
    • But we come to worship on Sunday morning to do more than just learn something new for the week. We also come to be renewed – to have our hearts and spirits strengthened by God’s word as it is sung, read, preached, and embodied.
      • Psalmist also speaks of being strengthened and renewed, of finding that life-giving essence in the word of God – text: My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word. … My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to you word.[5]
        • Heb “revive” = same root as Heb “life” –> Give me life according to your word.
          • Reminds me of way Christ explains why he – the living Word – came for us: (gospel of John) I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.[6]
  • Important to realize that scripture = so much more than just words on a page – it’s an ongoing action … awe-inspiring, startling, profound –> This is why the “hearing” phase of worship includes more than just the Scripture readings and the sermon.
    • Other elements: children’s sermon, hymn following sermon, prayers of the people
      • Scholar: Scripture is not a dead letter but a dynamic, living word. It is to be read and heard and proclaimed in openness to the Holy Spirit … who leads the church to discern the Word of God for our place and time.[7] –> Hearing God’s Word read and proclaimed and sung and prayed gives us the opportunity to interact with our Eternal God – the One who was and is and is to come, the God powerful enough to bring the universe into being and yet humble enough to make the ultimate sacrifice: dying a shameful death on a cross for our own sake.
        • This is the word we hear
        • This is the word we speak
        • This is the word we encounter
    • Again, openness is crucial – different ways to experience Word = learning different things from God à When we …
      • Hear God’s Word read in Scripture: encounter God in words of the ages – words passed down to us through countless generations of believers
        • Introduces elements of history and tradition into hearing God’s word – shared story of faith
      • Hear God’s Word proclaimed in Sermon: encounter God in words for today – more contemporary
        • Important to point out that this part actually has very little to do with me à more about privilege of letting Holy Spirit speak through me
          • Many times in pastors’ lives when someone comes up to them after service and thanks them for specific message … even though that message wasn’t necessarily even part of the sermon!
            • E.g. – preaching in Eau Claire
            • God using the words being spoken to work directly in people’s hearts
        • Sometimes message looks/sounds different (e.g. – various accounts used on World Communion Sunday instead of one whole sermon) –> gives God opportunity to transform our hearts and minds through different kind of Word
      • In hymn, God’s Word speaks to our souls in a different language – language of music
        • Sometimes more powerful
        • Sometimes more emotional
        • Sometimes able to reach places we were trying desperately to hide or places we didn’t even know existed
      • Also “hear” God’s Word through actions –> sometimes hearing with our ears is overrated
        • Hearing with our eyes – learning with children
        • Hearing with our hearts – lifting up the prayers of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ à also requires that element of openness
          • Scholar: These prayers need to be as inclusive as the headlines of the current newspaper. Of all places in the liturgy, the church must … open out in broad embrace of the world. “Our prayers should be as wide as God’s love and as specific as God’s tender compassion for the least ones among us” (BCW 40).[8]
  • The Word of God is a central part of our worship, and a central part of our lives. It truly is a living breathing presence, woven throughout all that we do and all that we say in our worship services. When we gather together here and participate in the Word – when we hear it read and proclaimed and sung and prayed, and when we are open enough for that Word to transform our very beings – we cannot help but be changed. Amen.

[1] Ps 119:30b-31a.

[2] Ps 119:26b-27a, 32 (emphasis added).

[3] Pheme Perkins. “The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 574.

[4] Peter C. Bower, ed. The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2003), 31.

[5] Ps 119:25, 28.

[6] John 10:10b.

[7] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1176).

[8] Bowers, 33.

Sunday’s Sermon: Gathering in the Word

Time for another sermon series! 🙂 We’re going to be spending the next 4 weeks talking about the 4 phases of worship – Gathering, Hearing, Responding, and Sending – as well as the various worship elements that are part of those phases (e.g. – Call to Worship, Offering, etc.) As congregations, we are in the process of rethinking our worship service – possibly adding new things, possibly altering others – and in preparation for that, we’re returning to the roots of worship for a little refresher. So here we go ………………………

  • So we’ve been thinking about worship for the last few months, right?
    • How we can liven things up a bit
    • How we can bring a personal touch to things
    • MINI-ADVERTISEMENT: Still looking for a few people to be part of a worship team à toss around and implement some new ideas
    • So for the next few weeks, we’re going to be talking about how we worship. –> various parts of our service
      • Why do we do them?
      • Where is God in our worship?
      • What do we bring to worship?
    • 4 basic phases to a worship service
      • Gathering
      • Hearing
      • Responding
      • Being sent out
  • Today: talk about gathering in God’s Word
    • So I was thinking about all the different reasons that we gather together.
      • Gather to reconnect – reunions (describe)
      • Gather to learn – conferences (describe)
      • Gather to coordinate a message – debriefing/meeting (describe)
      • When we gather, we come bearing stories to share and at the same time, we have our part to play in a shared story (whatever brought us together) –> Think of all the stories that you share with you oldest and dearest friends. Even if you’re just getting together for a cup of coffee, you still bring your shared history into the conversation with you.
        • Inside jokes, double meanings, backgrounds for current stories that you don’t have to re-explain because they’re already familiar
        • Not so different from what bring us together to worship –> We bring our own stories to this place, but we also come to participate in the shared story of this congregation and the shared story of Christians all around the world.
  • Worship: Scripture for today highlights the “why” before we get into the “how”
    • Paul in Rom: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.[1]
      • Digging in –> Gr in this passage is really telling
        • “appeal” = so much more than just a polite request à all sorts of connotations: beseech, summon, invite, implore, comfort, encourage
          • Speaks to the personal side of worship –> To me, this sounds like Paul is saying, “Any way you get to worship, do it. Any way you bring yourself – whatever condition you’re in, whatever response you seek, whatever particular hang-ups you might have – come and worship. Present yourself before God. This is your spiritual worship.”
            • Sometimes we need to be summoned
            • Sometimes we need to be beseeched
            • Sometimes we need to be encouraged
            • Scholar: When Paul wants to confront, to comfort, to build up, to worship, his regular way of doing so … is not to offer two or three abstract doctrines. It is to tell the story and invite his readers to make it their own.[2] –> come to worship to both tell and take part in the grand Story
              • Story of creation
              • Story of salvation
              • Story of faith
              • Story of God’s work in the world
              • This is a story that weaves together our own, personal plot lines with that of the community. It gives us a safe place to learn about ourselves and to grow, a place to ask questions of God and one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and a place to lift up those parts in our lives that we feel are in need of prayer.
              • Leads to another reason for gathering that Paul mentions: to “discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[3]
                • Now, the Greek in this part of the passage reveals that Paul isn’t actually expecting perfection of us – not in the way we think of perfection today, anyway. –> not expected to …
                  • Feel confident that we always know what the will of God is (for ourselves or others!)
                  • Feel confident that our endeavors always align with the will of God
                  • In the sense that Paul intended, being “perfect” speaks to a maturity and a completeness to our discernment. Paul is encouraging us to get in the habit of trying to discern God’s will, to make it the norm instead of the exception to the rule. When we come together to worship, we gather with our sisters and our brothers in Christ so that we can all help one another grow and mature in our faith – in the ways in which we listen for and discern the will of God in our lives. à gather to …
                    • Learn from others
                    • Accountable to others
                    • Support from others
  • So we come together to worship so we can present ourselves to God and to discern God’s will in our lives. And when we gather, we join our own personal needs and experiences with those around us to build a genuine and unique community experience … but how do we do that?
    • First part of a worship service = gathering in God’s word –> scholar: Worship begins with God. God takes the initiative, calling us together. Our first act of public worship, therefore, is to heed God’s call and to join with others in praising God.[4]
    • Main parts in includes:
      • Call to Worship
      • Hymn of praise
      • Confession (call to, prayer of, & declaration of forgiveness)
    • Call to Worship –> gives us the chance to remind one another why we’ve gathered together to worship in the first place – speaks of …
      • Goodness and mercy of God
      • Blessing of faith
      • Power of God’s presence with us
      • Hear the call in Ps 100: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.[5] –> Now, I know not everyone is comfortable with the singing part, but the Hebrew in this passage reveals that the psalmist isn’t just talking to those who are confident in their own melodic abilities.
        • Heb. “make a noise” = shout triumphantly and loudly (connotations of a war-cry)
        • Heb. “singing” = ringing cry
        • When we put these two together, we see that the psalmist is encouraging people to make whatever noise they can before God. And why do we do that?
          • Scholar: We are not our own! This is a difficult lesson to hear and to get across in a culture that encourages us to be “self-made” men and women. … [But] in biblical terms, to live is to praise God and to praise God is to live.[6] –> So the first thing we do is we call one another to come … to worship … to praise the God who led us here in the first place – the God who got us through another week and can renew us for the week to come! That’s also the reason we all participate in the Call to Worship. It’s important that we all call one another here. It’s not just me summoning you to come to worship because I think you need it. It’s not the [PTCA and PC(USA)/MN Conference and UCC] calling you to come because they think you need to be a member. It’s all of us as members of this community of faith calling one another together to once again both tell and take part in our Grand Story of faith. And once we’ve reminded one another why we are here, we celebrate that call and our ensuing worship with a hymn of praise.
            • Today’s = perfect e.g.: [lyrics – “We Gather Together”]
    • Other major part of gathering as a community to worship = confession –> I know this part can feel uncomfortable for some people, but it truly is an integral part of our worship service.
      • Chance to come before God as one body and confess
        • Confess our own sins
        • Confess our sins as a community
        • Scholar: Why offer a prayer of confession? To remember all that God has done for us in Christ is to be confronted with the fact of God’s astonishing love and our own unworthiness. … In the Prayer of Confession, we trust God’s mercy enough to lay before God not only those sins which may belong to us individually and personally, but also the sins and brokenness of our human condition, in which, even without intending to, we are constantly running away from God and our neighbors.[7] –> Think about getting together with your friends or family. If there’s something that’s happened – something that hurt someone or offended someone – you  need to clear the air before you get on with your relationship.
          • Can’t grow in uncertainty
          • Can’t learn when distracted by dishonesty
          • As the supervisor for my chaplaincy internship used to say, you have to name it, claim it, and tame it. We join together in a prayer of confession to name our sins before God, claim our part in them, and release them to God so they can be tamed by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
      • This is where both Words of Assurance/Declaration of Forgiveness and Passing the Peace come in à our opportunity to remind one another of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness
        • As with the Call to Worship, the Words of Assurance aren’t me doling out forgiveness to you because it’s my lofty role as pastor to do so. My role is simply to remind you of God’s forgiveness every week – to give voice to the reconciliation that we all experience with God so that in turn, we can pass that reconciliation on as we share handshakes, hugs, and greetings of peace with one another.
  • Gathering in the Word = more than just an intro to the service
    • Heartfelt invitation
    • Genuine praise
    • Honest confession
    • When we are able to gather as a community to worship God – when we feel comfortable enough and inspired enough to invite each other into this worship, to share a song of praise, to confess our shortcomings in one another’s presence and remind each other of God’s love and forgiveness as we share Christ’s peace – when we are able to gather as that kind of community to worship God as one, that is truly a gift. It’s a gift from us to God, and it’s a gift from God to us. So as the popular contemporary worship song proclaims, “Come … now is the time to worship!”[8] Amen.

[1] Rom 12:1-2.

[2] N.T. Wright. “The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 10. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), 699.

[3] Rom 12:2.

[4] Peter C. Bower, ed. The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2003), 19.

[5] Ps 100:1-2.

[6] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1079.

[7] Bower, 22-23.

[8] Brian Doerkson. “Come, Now is the Time to Worship.” © 1998.

Sunday’s Sermon for World Communion Sunday


This past Sunday was World Communion Sunday – a day in which churches all around the globe celebrate the Lord’s Supper as one body, one giant, beautiful, diverse family of God. So instead of a regular sermon, we read a little bit about the history of World Communion Sunday, then continued with various Scripture readings and stories of communion from around the world. Interspersed are my own thoughts on the different pieces.


World Communion Sunday – A History


“All who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” (I Cor. 11:29)

World Communion Sunday celebrates our oneness in Christ with all our brothers and sisters around the world.  Paul tells us that we are to “discern the body” when we partake of Holy Communion, mindful that we note our relationship to all our brothers and sisters in Christ as a way of continuing the ancient Christian practice of sharing what we have with brothers and sisters in need.

World Communion Sunday is actually a gift of the Presbyterian Church to the larger ecumenical church.  The first celebration occurred at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933 where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor.

World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.

In describing how the idea of World Communion Sunday spread from that first service to the worldwide practice today, Donald Kerr, the son of the late Rev. Kerr, said, “The concept spread very slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. World Wide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Celebration of World Wide Communion Sunday was adopted as a denominational practice in the Presbyterian Church (US) in 1936.  Churches in other denominations were invited to celebrate as well from the beginning, but it wasn’t until 1940 when the Department of Evangelism of the Federal Council of Churches (a predecessor body of the National Council of Churches) promoted extending the celebration to a number of churches around the world that the practice became widespread.  Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world, demonstrating that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by globalization and global market economies based on greed.

My thoughts …

The world we live in today is a shattered and broken one. Our nightly news is full of stories that bring to our attention all that is wrong with the world. There is violence rampant in our world. We’ve seen it in the conflict in Syria and the attacks at the mall in Kenya and at the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C. There is such a fracturing of relationships and respect in our nation’s capital that the government itself has shut down. Our nation’s leaders have become more concerned with pointing fingers than they have with working together for the good of the people. Thousands of people across the country – our friends and family, our neighbors and maybe even ourselves – are struggling financially because of unemployment and severe underemployment, unable to pay the necessary bills, to feed families or afford necessary medications. And every day, students in schools across the country are so viciously and relentlessly bullied by their peers that they decide the only way to cope is to take their own lives. This is the world that we live in … and yet, when we approach the table, we are reminded that God cares for each and every one of us. We are welcomed to this spiritual feast just as we are with all our talents and all our flaws, all our joys and all our struggles. And on this special Sunday, we come to the table with all those brothers and sisters around the world who are struggling, just like we are … who are celebrating oneness in the body of Christ, just like we are … who are in need of being bathed in God’s grace, just like we are … who desire to see God’s reign of peace and justice envelop this earth, just as we do. When we celebrate communion today, we come with our family and friends here [at First Congregation UCC, Zumbrota/at the Presbyterian Church of Oronoco], but we also come with brothers and sisters across the world to declare boldly, “God loves me. God loves you. God’s love is for all.”


World Communion Sunday: Worship with One Who Feels Forgotten


Heb 2:5-12 

Written by Scott Couper
September 9, 2012

When I think of World Communion Sunday, I imagine hundreds, thousands, if not millions of Christians worshipping together in large churches, cathedrals and even stadiums together at once.  There is a sense in which a grandiose setting with numerous people evokes a sense of solidarity, strength, certainty and majesty that can only be engendered by magnitude.

Yet, when I read Hebrews 2:5-12, I am confronted with another perspective about what evokes solidarity, strength, certainty and even majesty.  How about intimacy?  How about diminution?  How about humility?  How about deference?

After experiencing bold and powerful Sunday worship in the church, the band of believers at iThafamasi Congregational Church, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) travelled to an even more remote area called eMakhasini to visit one old church woman, aged 97, in her dark and simple hut.

Mina Luthuli laid in her bed, dressed in her church uniform, and softly cried tears of joy as we served her the bread and the wine.

In such an intimate setting, I sensed a solidarity that would rival a stadium filled to capacity.  In such a humble setting, I experienced a majesty that would rival any felt in a cathedral.

“You have made them for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7). Jesus’ example demonstrates to us that perhaps diminution and deference for the least of us provides all with strength and certainty.

This World Communion Sunday, worship with one who feels forgotten.

My thoughts …

Each and every one of us knows what it’s like to feel alone. We know what it’s like to hurt. We know what it’s like to feel empty. We know what it’s like to feel unneeded, unwanted, unloved. But in partaking in the bread and the cup of Christ – in remember the sacrifice of body and blood that Jesus gave so freely for our salvation – we are lifted up. We are shown a light in the darkness. But even as we are bathed in the warmth of God’s grace, we cannot forget that others are suffering. Others feel broken and lost, alone and hopeless. We come to this table for our own spiritual renewal, but when we come, we are reminded that the One who first laid out this feast spent his time with those who lived their lives on the margins – the outcasts, the sinner, the forgotten and the oppressed. We are reminded that before he himself came to this table, Jesus humbled himself by washing the cracked and dirty feet of his companions. So while we bring our own brokenness to this table, we also leave it with the responsibility and the joy of reaching out to others in their brokenness with the same hand of love that God extends to us.


Comfort in Communion


Written by Scott Couper
September 7, 2012

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

Driving to worship on Sunday, I looked over the cliff a few kilometers from my church to see, hundreds of feet down, a battered and mangled bus on its side.  I could see school uniforms, lunches and books scattered down the ravine.  Seven dead children’s bodies had already been removed.  Another fifty children were taken to hospital, many critical.

In seminary, ministry students study ‘theodicy’ – why and how God ‘allows’ human suffering.  Of course, no amount of theological enlightenment fully prepares one to walk in partnership with a community that in the midst of tragedy asks the same question.  As suggested by Job’s friends, sin is often blamed.  The driver was speeding.  A mechanic took a short cut.  Someone passed on a corner.  Corruption wastes money that should have been spent on road infrastructure.  Historic injustices continue, perpetuating South Africa’s income disparity – the highest in the world.

At the iThafamasi Congregational Church, one must acknowledge that human sin exists and has consequences.  But, the community asks, “How does God ‘allow’ children to suffer the sins of others?”  In a community with no water, electricity, jobs, tarred roads – how much more suffering must a community endure? Children on a rare school trip, journeying to expand their minds in class and bodies in sport are suddenly dashed upon the rocks.

On Sunday, real life interrupted the lectionary.  Questions were asked of me.  I offered perspectives.  Yet, I had only one answer: Holy Communion.

The mystery of Jesus Christ.  God with us.  Solidarity.  Suffering transformed into healing through the Cross.  Death to eternal life.  Hope.  And I pray, comfort.

My thoughts …

We often have questions for God. we want to know how the things that Go wrong in our lives could possibly considered “fair.” We want to know where God is when we’re struggling. We want to know why bad things happen to good people. “What were you thinking, God? Where were you then? Where are you now? What are you going to do about this tragedy?” And then we hear the invitation to the table, Christ’s simple, one-word summons: “Come.” There are no strings attached. Jesus doesn’t say, “Come … but leave your baggage behind. Come … but leave your questions behind. Come … but only if you’ve met these specific conditions.” Christ simply says, “Come.” And so we find assurance that at the table, we will find peace and comfort, love and acceptance. We may not find the answer that we seek, but we can be certain that we will find God – a God who cares for us above all else, a God who grieves with us when we grieve and knows us better than we know ourselves. This is the God who waits for us at the feast.


Communion in Hungary


Written by Amy Lester
September 10, 2013

Acts 2:37-47

Starpoint Reformed Youth Festival communion service

This summer the Reformed Church in Hungary held a week-long youth festival in the small town of Mezőtúr, Hungary. Starpoint, as the festival is known, is put on every other year with a different theme and venue each year. This year nearly 4,000 young people came together and discussed the theme of Identity with the message: Be who you are.

On the last day, everyone gathered at the main stage for a closing service and communion. It’s quite a sight to see 4,000 young people come together around the Lord’s Table. The week was focused on finding yourself and what it means to have a Christian identity, yet as people approached the table, it was no longer about individuals but about community.

The area in front of the main stage was soon full of participants reflectively waiting to be served. It was a moment that truly showed that while we are all unique in our Christian identities, we are all one at the table of the Lord, and despite our individual shortcomings, all are welcome through Christ’s sacrifice and the grace of God.

My thoughts …

“While we are all unique in our Christian identities, we are all one at the table of the Lord.” Each and every one of us approaches this table differently. We all look different. We come with different prayers in our lips. We come with different sins weighing on our hearts. We come seeking different things from Christ – brother, healer, mediator, friend. And yet, when we present ourselves before God at this table, we are one. We are one in the way that God loves and forgives us. We are one in our need for God’s grace. Even though we are seeking different things, we are all seeking. Even though we are praying different prayers, we are all praying. Even though we are traveling different paths, we are all pausing to remember Christ’s sacrifice as we break the bread and share the cup. And even though we are totally and completely unique in our journeys, God meets each and every one of us exactly where we are, uniting us as brothers and sisters in our renewal. Whether we are young or old, male or female, a small group of 4 or an assembly of 4000, God meets us at the table, taking that special, sacred moment with each of us, reminding us both who we are and whose we are: disciples of the Prince of Peace.


“Final Suppers” written by Mandla Gobledale


Gal 3:23-29

The Gobledales serve the Common Global Ministries Board at Churches of Christ Theological College (Seminary) in Australia. Ana & Tod Gobledale serve as chaplains and lecturers at the Churches of Christ Theological College, Churches of Christ in Australia, near Melbourne, Australia.

Mandla, 19-years-old when he wrote this poem, was an active part of the Boronia Church of Christ in Australia and before attending Occidental College in Los Angeles.

The loaf is plentiful
I give and receive
I eat the bread

It is passionately red
Bitter as betrayal
I drink the wine

Prayer is uttered
Everyone is fed
I eat the bread

Everyone is offered
None refuse
I drink the wine

All are forgiven
None are abandoned
We eat the bread
We drink the wine

My thoughts …

Such simple words that carry such a profound reminder: All are called. All are welcome. All are one in God’s eyes. The issues and opinions that divide us seem to be at the forefront lately. It seems everything that we see and hear in the news is supposed to remind us how different we are from each other. You don’t think like I do. You don’t act like I do. You don’t look like I do. You don’t worship like I do. You are “the other.” You are one of “them,” not one of “us.” But if we aren’t careful, this divisiveness could consume us, isolating us from those we once called “neighbor,” “family,” and “friend.” But when we come to the table to celebrate, we are reminded that Christ came for all. Christ died for all. Christ offers forgiveness and a place in eternal glory to all. Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). And as we are reminded of our common history – a history of rebellion and redemption, a history of straying and salvation – we come to this table with our brother and sisters – not in front of them, not behind them, not above them or below them … but beside them, hand in hand.

Hallelujah. Amen.

Beauty at the End of Life


Red … brown … orange … green … gold … 

As I go about all the things that I do in a day, these are the colors that we are starting to see as yet another fall envelops us. The trees outside the churches I serve are starting to turn. There are fiery gold and red leaves here and there, but most of the leaves are still a vibrant green just tinged around the edges with a little red here and a little orange there. The crops in the field are starting to dry out (a little later than usual according to this farm girl’s internal season-clock). The soybean fields look like they’re lit from within as they turn bright yellow, and the corn fields are starting to turn that gorgeous color that can only be described as cornstalk. It’s not quite yellow, not quite tan, not quite brown … it’s cornstalk. 

Many people (this pastor-momma included) claim fall as their favorite seasons. We love the chill in the air that inspires fires in fireplaces, snuggling under blankets with those we love, and endless cups of hot chocolate, coffee, tea, or cider. We know that the brutal cold of winter is just around the corner, and so we savor the warmth of the sunshine and those Indian Summer days all the more.

But something occurred to me as I was driving away from daycare yesterday morning: All these beautiful colors and this awe-inspiring fall scenery is only possibly because everything around us is dying.

It’s a disturbing thought, but it’s true. The trees on the leaves – those self-same leaves that bring us so much visual pleasure right now – will be dead and falling off within the next few months. The crops in the field must dry and die off before they can be harvested. Even the plants in our gardens have to die. (Ours have long since turned brown and been chopped down thanks to my wonderfully dedicated husband.)

And as I think about this interesting juxtaposition – the beauty preceding the death – I can’t help but thank God for sending us a Savior. Before Christ was born into this world to cleanse us of our sins and to irreversibly repair our shattered relationship with God, death was something to fear. Whether or not you believe in a “real” hell, before Jesus, we faced an eternity of the unknown. 

But now … now we have Jesus. We have salvation. We have the promise of what is to come: 

Jesus [said], “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” (John 11:25)

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

Now, instead of fearing the end of life, we can rest assured in the grace and mercy of God. We can rest assured in our salvation through Christ who was able even to conquer something as sure and frightening as death and turn it into something beautiful: an eternal life with God.

Beauty at the end of life. Vibrant green leaves tinged with red and orange, just starting to die.

In our world, we find beauty at the end of life. We see this every fall, but we also see it in the wake of terrible things like forest fires when small green shoots start to poke out of the ashes. We see it in the growing cycles of the crops that sustain us. And we see it in the ones we love.



This is a picture of my grandma and one of my boys, her great-grandson (2nd great-grandchild). Grandma’s in her late 80s. When this picture was taken, Ian was about 3 months old. Grandma’s life has been long – full of many challenges and many blessings. Her timeline is starting to be tinged with red and gold just like those leaves. And yet there is so much beauty there. There is beauty in the way she lives, spending as much of her time as she can doing whatever she can to help other people. (She still reads to the “old people” at the local nursing home … most of whom are probably younger than she is. She still picks up the “old ladies” for church every Sunday morning … at least one of whom is most certainly younger than she is.) There is beauty in the faith she lives, a faith that has remained both central and strong even though she lost her own husband 50 years ago when their boys (my dad and uncles) were 10, 9, 6, and 3. There is beauty in every wrinkle on her face and every white hair on her head.

And there is overwhelming beauty (yup … tearing up again) in seeing such incredible love span generations like this. Look at the smile on my grandma’s face as she looks at Ian. Look at the smile on Ian’s face as he stares up at her. I can’t help but wonder what he sees … what he thinks … what he knows and understands about this beautiful moment.

Every fall, we let ourselves get wrapped up in the stunning scenery and exceptional beauty of the world as it once again cycles through the process of dying. But the reason we can revel in such a change is because we know that when spring comes around again, everything will be reborn. The bulbs in the flower garden will once again poke their little shoots out. The tractors will once again chug through the fields planting seeds that will soon be full of tall and lush plants (please, God!). The buds on the trees will once again burst into tiny cluster of that vivid green that we love to see in the spring. 

And as we look at the end of our own lives – whether we are near that end, whether our lives have just begun, or whether we’re somewhere in between – it is my hope and prayer that you can find joy in the promised splendor that is to come:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Hallelujah. Amen.